The annual survey of opening day baseball salaries by The Associated Press usually reveals something interesting about the state of the game, and this year’s version was even more interesting than most.
Here’s a tidbit from it that borders on surprising: Despite all you hear and read about the game’s huge salaries, a significant percentage of major league baseball players aren’t millionaires. That’s not to say they won’t be by the time they’re done playing. Even those playing for minimum salary – assuming they are somewhat frugal with their money – will eventually end up with a pile of cash if their careers last long enough.
And then, of course, there’s Trevor Bauer making $38 million in Los Angeles this season and Francisco Lindor’s staggering 10-year, $341 million contract with the New York Mets. But of the 902 players on opening-day rosters, 417 had salaries under $1 million. That included 316 – basically 1 of 3 players – making under $600,000.
Equally startling is the annual study by AP Baseball Writer Ronald Blum is that baseball salaries have actually taken a hit in the last few years after rising at a dizzying pace for the previous few decades. The survey showed the average wage dropped 4.8 percent to just under $4.17 million on opening day from the start of the 2019 season and is down 6.4 percent since peaking at $4.45 million in 2017.
The rich are getting richer, mainly because nothing is standing in the way of owners signing the latest hot player to keep fans happy. But baseball’s middle class is getting squeezed. Analytics is causing teams to re-evaluate how much they want to commit to non-superstars for specific skill sets. Often, they discover the best answer is the lowest-paid player available.
Consider this: The 50 highest-paid players make one-third of all the salary in baseball. The 100 highest-paid players account for more than half the payroll, leaving 800 other players to split the remaining 47.6 percent.
Meanwhile, the median salary – the point at which an equal number of players are above and below – is $1.15 million, down 30% from the $1.65 million records high at the start of 2015. For now, that means less complaining among fans about highly paid players who don’t produce on the field. But with the collective bargaining agreement expiring after this season, it also means there’s a risk of no baseball come this time next year.